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VPN vs. Remote Desktop: What is the difference?

Updated on: 20 February 2019 SECURITY

With today’s technological advancements, you can literally assume the identity of another computer online. By using certain protocols that give you control over a certain device on the network, you can achieve certain things that you normally can’t.

For example, you can overcome the geo-restrictions that are placed on some websites.

You can achieve this using either a VPN or an RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol). While most people are confused by these two concepts and believe they are one and the same thing, there are some differences to them.

In short, these are the main distinctions between VPNs and RDPs:

  • Using a VPN is akin to donning a mask that covers your face and your identity, while making you look like another person in another location. Technologically speaking, your traffic appears to originate from a distinct location that your original one. As such, when you browse the internet, your IP will appear to come from the location of the VPN server.
  • An RDP functions differently. Basically, it allows you to literally become that other server or computer on the network. You can use the files, folders, and applications of that specific device as if you were using the device yourself. Which, actually, you are, but with a twist.

1. What you need to know about a VPN

As most of you probably know, VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. A VPN provider will encrypt your internet traffic and superimpose certain security protocols over it.

This increases your general protection against unauthorized access from the outside. It also hides your IP and makes it near-impossible for anyone to track down your data.

One of the basic features of a good online security provider is that it helps you bypass certain geo-restrictions or access Netflix, for example.

Another reason why you would want to use a VPN is that it allows you to remotely access a network. With this in mind, you can work from home, while accessing your files from another location. The server database of the company you work for, for example.

However, there are disadvantages to using a VPN as well. It sucks that there are large bandwidth requirements that come with VPN usage. There are files that are constantly transferred to your computer, and therein lies the problem.

The encryption and security granted by the virtual connection completely negate foreign access to your network. This is a tool ideally used by individual users who want to increase their anonymity and privacy.

A major concern for a VPN is that accessing databases through this network could spell disaster. If they aren’t correctly configured, the databases can become corrupt and revoke access indefinitely.

In other words, be careful of the VPN you’re using because it can fuck up your system big time and cripple your privacy at the same time.

Pros – easy to maintain and troubleshoot, exponentially more secure and encrypted with top-notch algorithms, technical issues are easy to solve.

Cons – has large bandwidth requirements, will slow down your speed, it might infect your system with some strain of the bubonic plague if it’s not configured properly.

2. What is RDP?

The Remote Desktop Protocol was originally devised by Microsoft to better maintain and troubleshoot their servers. It was merely a technical tool that increased efficiency.

However, it has since become available on all platforms. There are many opensource programs that function as an RDP, such as FreeRDP. Its main function is to help you access a distant computer or network, and mirror its graphical interface.

Hijacking, basically. This is what RDP is all about. You are taking over a certain computer as if you were there. It’s quite similar to TeamViewer.

One of the best things about it is that you not only have access to that particular device and its resources, but you can also make use of the resources of the overall network.

This means that you can execute certain network licensed software that you wouldn’t be able to run otherwise.

Or if you need to do some highly strenuous tasks that require a large computational power, you can use the remote device to achieve this. Controlling it from a distance means that you can make use of its features, capabilities, and technological complexity through a simple connection.

You can harbor the power of a supercomputer through a laptop.

However, the main issue with RDPs is that they are largely unencrypted and unsecured. Everyone can get access to that network, just as you did. Moreover, the connection is doomed to be excruciatingly slow.

After all, you’re sending many different commands through the network. Files, app commands, mouse movements, system protocols, and plenty of other information. This is not the cause if you’re using an RDP to connect to a device near you.

A big downside is that the host machine you’re accessing can very easily be hijacked by someone else as well. Unless it has powerful sysadmin security protocols implemented, another RDP user can take over the connection on the fly.

3. Comparing the two

For security purposes, a VPN will almost always trump an RDP. The latter is insecure and lack in the encryption protocols of a good online security provider. You can never be sure when another RDP user or a hacker hijacks the system you’ve been accessing.

Moreover, an RDP is definitely not suited for usage in an environment where each employee has his own machine that he carries to and from work. You obviously cannot turn every device into a Remote Desktop system, and you want them to be protected at all times.

As such, you will want to access a Dedicated IP network. You guessed it, these are provided by VPNs.

Whether you need a VPN or an RDP, it all depends on whether you’re a business or an individual user.

If you’re an individual user:

  • Use a VPN like NordVPN or IPVanish to access the internet through a safe and secure network. This will render your IP invisible, you’ll become anonymous, and your privacy will be assured
  • You can use a VPN to stream media content or your favorite streaming website. Whether you’re at home or at work, in another country or even in the middle of the fucking jungle, you can watch Game of Thrones because…. VPNs.
  • A personal VPN will help you evade any internet surveillance or online tracking. Moreover, attempts to censor certain types of materials on the internet won’t be able to stop you.
  • The extra features that come with a VPN are also incredibly useful. Take NordVPN’s CyberSec or DoubleVPN features. You get plenty of security and protection with their help
  • Use an RDP only if you need a friend to access your home computer remotely. Generally, these are very specific cases. As an individual user, you won’t need to use an RDP for the most part

If you’re a business:

  • Use a VPN like CyberGhost to give your employees a safe network to work with when they are abroad or connection from public spaces
  • An internal VPN is definitely good when you need your employees to access certain files. These would be stored in an encrypted secure server
  • An RDP is extremely useful for maintenance. IT technicians can easily access the computers of employees for troubleshooting issues
  • With the help of an RDP, employees can access a central system from remote locations. Essentially, if the central system has complex protocols and difficult to replicate capabilities that the employees can’t access, an RDP is the only solution left.

All in all, if you’re not a system admin owning a company with hundreds of employees, then you’ll probably never need to use an RDP. VPNs are your best bet for a safe and secure journey through the digital seas.

In this sense, take a look at NordVPN, IPVanish, and CyberGhost. These three take it upon themselves to deliver the absolute best private networks in the industry. With hundreds of thousands of users worldwide, they are the three most reliable VPNs on the market.

Go private and anonymous, go VPNs!

Written by: Alex Popa

Content writer and technology enthusiast. Alex discovered his love for writing not long ago, one that deepens with each written article. Tech subjects are right up his alley, and as he strives to perfect his craft, even more, his journey through the cyber-world leads to many interesting topics that he approaches with the skill and passion of an avid learner. He’s decided to put his ability to good use and share any digital novelties he comes across.

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